Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein have been plenty serious, in their respective ways, for a long time. McKibben, one of the world's leading environmental writers and activists, has fought the climate fight in every conceivable way. In 2007, together with a small band of students at Middlebury College, where he teaches, he founded the global 350.org network. Last year it spearheaded the campaign against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, resulting in the largest civil-disobedience action in a generation at the gates of the White House. (The week after the election, they were back, thousands strong, pressuring Obama to kill the pipeline once and for all, and a major action is planned for Washington on February 17.)
For her part, Klein "came of age politically," she told me, with the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, when she was 29, shortly after which her international best-seller No Logo made her an intellectual star of the anti-globalization movement. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, her 2007 magnum opus, exposed the ways neoliberal free-market profiteers have exploited chaos and catastrophe in disaster zones, from hurricane-shocked New Orleans to "shock-and-awe"-shocked Iraq.
So seeing McKibben and Klein on stage together, launching a mathematical and moral assault on the carbon corporatocracy, says something significant about the charged atmosphere of this particular moment — as we end a year, the warmest on record, in which we lost half the Arctic ice cap and saw off-the-charts global weather extremes, while the political and media establishments seemed not to notice. It also says something about the direction the climate movement may be taking — or, rather, the direction McKibben and Klein argue it should be taking, as they seek to merge climate and economic justice in a way that goes beyond both traditional environmentalism and the old-school, climate-clueless left.
Each has a tough-love message for their own constituency — McKibben for an insular environmental movement that's been woefully ineffective on climate; Klein for a left, including many in the Occupy movement, that has failed to grapple with the seriousness and urgency of the climate crisis. Look, they're saying, this is it: science tells us that time is running out, and everything you've ever fought for is on the line. Climate change has the ability to undo your historic victories and crush your present struggles. So it's time to come together, for real, and fight to preserve and extend what you care most about — which means engaging in the climate fight, really engaging, as if your life and your life's work, even life itself, depended on it. Because they do.
Klein, as it happens, is at work on a book in which she hopes to tie all of this together. Due to appear late next year, it's part of a joint project with her husband, documentary filmmaker Avi Lewis. In a long interview from her home in Toronto before coming to Boston, Klein explained how the book and film — separate but interrelated pieces of a larger whole — make an ambitious argument, one she first laid out in a cover story for The Nation last November, "Capitalism vs. the Climate."